Tahoe attorney navigates family law outside of the courtroom
Special to the Sun
Who: Lisa Fraas
What: Mediator and Certified Family Law Specialist
Address: 6921 North Lake Blvd., Tahoe Vista
TAHOE VISTA, Calif. — While some may walk a more ambiguous path in life, there are those who are predestined for something.
Lisa Fraas happens to be someone whose life was certain from the get-go.
“I have known since about fourth grade that I wanted to be a lawyer,” said Fraas at one of her regional law offices in Tahoe City. “There was a time when I thought I’d become either a lawyer or a doctor, but I took an anatomy class during my undergrad at UCSB and we had to cut open a cadaver, and that’s when I decided, yep, law it is.”
The family law specialist grew up under gray skies in Buffalo, N.Y., until her family moved to California, where she finished out high school.
“There’s a part of me that misses Buffalo,” she said. “Although, I can’t see myself ever moving back — I love California.”
Fresh off a semester abroad program in France, Fraas graduated from UC Santa Barbara in pursuit of law school.
Her then-boyfriend was a student at Princeton — a factor that weighed in on her law school application process.
“I ended up going to Rutgers Law,” the East Coast native said. “But I didn’t end up taking the New York bar — I only took the California bar.”
Fraas paused for a moment, then added, “New York is a hard place to leave and I did think about staying, but California has so much more to offer, at least for me.”
HELPING SOLVE PROBLEMS
Fraas landed a job shortly after graduation working as a litigation lawyer for a firm in downtown San Francisco, taking on cases with big-time corporations like Chevron and Allstate.
“I liked what I was doing, but the cases were dinosaurs — they moved so slowly and they were really expensive for the clients,” Fraas said. “The high bills were a huge part of the cost of clean-up, but then you’d go to an Indian reservation and they’d still be living on a plume of contaminated water, so I didn’t feel like I was doing much to help.”
Fraas retreated to Tahoe every chance she could during her time in San Francisco until finally, in 1992, a spot at a law firm in Tahoe City opened up, and she jumped on it.
“I was taking on different cases at that time — real estate, land use, insurance, that type of thing — but I was really getting into family law as a volunteer and I loved it mostly because I’m a people person and I love to hear people’s stories,” she said. “But I was also drawn to the mediation aspect because to me, it’s a more effective way to solve problems.”
Unlike other forms of litigation that take place in a more controlled, less communicative court-room setting, Fraas saw mediation law as a means to help people through a difficult transition in their lives.
NOT LIKE THE MOVIES
Mediation law provides a modern approach to family legalities — an avenue far more successful and amicable than hiring two attorneys and battling out in court, especially when said battle involves the custody of children, she said.
“If you’re in a non-adversarial environment, you can feel safe in terms of having a full understanding of the other person’s side because you’re able to communicate in a way that doesn’t often happen in court — despite what the movies show,” she said, her red-haired curls bouncing as she laughed. “The movies make you think you’re going to have this great moment in court where you get to tell the other person what you think, when in actuality, it takes years and hundreds-of-thousands-of-dollars before each party speaks a word to each other.”
The approach not only saves her clients time and money, but it also fulfills Fraas in a more meaningful way than litigation law.
“So much of family law is about knowing your options, and through facilitation, both parties understand where the other is coming from, and so they almost always come up with a solution,” Fraas said. “It’s so rewarding when I’m able to help people through that transition of their lives and into their new existence.”
Jenny Goldsmith is a North Tahoe-based freelance writer and a former reporter for the Sierra Sun newspaper. Have an idea for a merchant to feature? Email her at email@example.com.
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